Paul Konerko, the veteran slugger and team captain who didn't want his career to end on such a sour note, is returning to the Chicago White Sox for another season.
The team announced Wednesday that the six-time American League All-Star agreed to a one-year, $2.5 million contract, opting to come back rather than retire or sign elsewhere.
The 37-year-old Konerko will receive $1.5 million in 2014 and $1 million in 2021 under the deal. He will also be paid $1 million annually from 2014 to 2020 under the contract he signed in December 2010.
The White Sox won just 63 games last season after finishing second in the AL Central the previous year, and Konerko struggled in a big way.
He dealt with a back issue and batted .244 with just 12 homers and 54 RBIs. Even so, the White Sox had said they would have a spot for Konerko if he wanted to return, and he's coming back in a more limited role.
"I was really planning on last year being it for me — having a good year, solid year, team doing at least good if not better and then saying, 'OK, that's it,"' Konerko said. "Everything went to shambles. Every single direction you could equate something last year, it was a disaster. To have the opportunity to come back in a lesser role, I'm kind of a good employee to have because I have no future, no agenda."
The White Sox aren't necessarily counting on him to regain the form that made that made him one of the most successful sluggers in franchise history. They see him as a clubhouse leader and a mentor for newcomer Jose Abreu, the Cuban slugger they signed in October.
Konerko, who in 15 seasons with the White Sox ranks second on the franchise list to Frank Thomas in homers and RBIs, will back up Abreu at first base and see time at designated hitter along with Adam Dunn.
"Even though it's somewhat of a reduced role, he can be just as productive throughout our clubhouse not playing as much because he can use a little bit more energy in [serving as a mentor]," manager Robin Ventura said. "That's something that seems to excite him right now, to be able to be that guy."
Konerko said he had started to come to terms last season with the fact that he would be in a reduced role if he played another year.
That thought was reinforced through discussions with other teams and he figured the White Sox were probably thinking the same way. They let him know in November that he would be in more of a backup — and mentorship — role if he came back. General manager Rick Hahn said they didn't spend much time discussing money when they met last month.
Talks heated up over the past week or so, and Konerko informed the White Sox on Tuesday that he would return.
"A large part of the role and what we spent a lot of time talking to Paulie about is just his presence in the clubhouse, and being able to continue to mentor some of our young players as we transition this roster over the next several months," Hahn said.
Looking for advice
Konerko said he talked to former teammate Jim Thome about playing in a reduced role. He also discussed the situation with Dunn, who could wind up with fewer at-bats particularly against left-handers.
"I had to really step back and analyze where I'm at as a player and all that," Konerko said. "Part of that is to look in the mirror and say, 'You know what? To go out and play 130 to 150 games, I couldn't sign up for something like that because I think if I did, I'd be promising something I don't know if I could deliver on."
A .281 hitter over 17 major league seasons, Konerko was acquired from Cincinnati in November 1998. He has hit all but seven of his 434 homers with the White Sox, and he helped them win the World Series championship in 2005 — the franchise's first since 1917.
One of the enduring images of that run is Konerko handing the ball from the final out to team Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf at the parade.
"Paul Konerko has been the constant face of the White Sox organization and the heart of our clubhouse over the past 15 seasons," Reinsdorf said in a statement. "He certainly earned the right to make this decision on his own, and we are very pleased that he has decided to return for another season. While the accomplishments speak for themselves — six All-Star Games, a World Series title, 427 home runs with the White Sox — anyone who is in our clubhouse day-in and day-out knows the value Paul brings to our franchise as a leader, as a teammate, as a mentor and as our captain."